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Alberta announces $30M to address high student enrolment, ATA calls it a 'drop in the bucket'

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Alberta's government announced an additional $30 million in funding Tuesday for the 2023-24 school year to better address enrolment growth, but advocates for teachers say that won't be enough.

Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides says school authorities will receive $1,500 per student for actual enrolment growth between zero and 100 students, and growth exceeding 100 students will be funded at $2,000 per student.

"Alberta government is committed to keeping our education system world class, and this investment will help us achieve that goal," Nicolaides said.

"This influx of new funding will be available to our school boards as early as this December, so that our school authorities will be able to add additional support immediately. This will help our school divisions hire up to 3,000 additional staff, including teachers, educational assistants, bus drivers and school support staff."

Medeana Moussa is a Calgary parent with four children in the public school system, but she also acts as the executive director of Support Our Students Alberta, a non-partisan education advocacy organization.

While she says the funding is welcome, she says the numbers need to be put into better context.

"If we think about what they said, it's going to be $1,500 per student for the first 100 students of enrollment, so that's about $150,000 for 100 students," Moussa said.

"That doesn't even hire two teachers."

Moussa adds that there are several complexities around new students immigrating to Calgary, who face language barriers as they arrive to new schools, calling this new funding a 'Band-Aid solution.'

"The money's coming in now, but these students arrived at the beginning of the year, so this is lagging funding," she said.

"Continually, the government has been instituting something called a 'weighted moving average,' and it has really, really hurt big metros like Calgary in our funding, because we are accepting so many more new students than, let's say, rural communities.

"The funding is lagging enrollment, which means that students, when they're enrolled in school, they're not being funded."

ALBERTA SCHOOLS ARE LOWEST FUNDED PER PUPIL IN THE COUNTRY: ATA 

This funding announcement Tuesday is on top of the $820 million Alberta already announced for school divisions over the next three years. A further $126 million is also being provided over the time period, so school authorities can add support to complex classrooms.

President of the Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA) Jason Schilling acknowledged that in the 2023-24 fiscal year, the province achieved a record $8.8 billion spent on education, but he says more needs to be done.

"The government has been falling short on funding for public education for years, and we're the least funded in Canada in terms of per pupil.

"This $30 million will make a very small difference at the end of the day, it's a drop in the bucket. Public education in Alberta would need an increase of about $1.2 billion to bring Alberta just to the Canadian funding average."

Schilling also expressed disappointment in the UCP's government's defeat of Bill 202, which would have once again made class size numbers public in the province.

The practice of publicly reporting class size data was stopped in 2019.

"So, they don't really have a true indication of how our classes are growing when they used to collect this data and have targeted funding for class size at that point," he said.

"By refusing to even debate 202 and to pass it and to start collecting that data again, so that we have a really strong indication of what our numbers are across this province, is really disappointing. It's like the government sort of saying, 'there's nothing to see here.'"  

CALGARY BOARD OF EDUCATION WELCOMES NEW FUNDING

The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) says it is grateful that the Alberta government is responding to what it calls 'historic' enrolment growth and increasing complexities across its schools.

In a statement to CTV News, the CBE says it welcomed approximately 7,000 new students this fall, bringing its total enrolment to more than 138,000 students. The CBE also expects to welcome an additional 2,000 students throughout the school year.

Adding to the struggles of higher enrolment are an uptick in students arriving from out of the country. 

"CBE's student population is becoming increasingly diverse, with more than 40,000 students identified as English as Additional Language Learners," read the statement.

"We will continue to work with government and community partners to find solutions in the best interest of students and their learning needs. We will remain responsive to provide students with the support they need when they need it."

The CBE's budget for the 2023-24 school year increased by $130 million to nearly $1.5 billion.

The additional investment meant the board was able to hire more teachers, education assistants and other school-based staff which it says are needed to address the pressures associated with serving the increasing number of students.

CALGARY CATHOLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT REACTS

In a statement sent to CTV News, the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) said it is experiencing unprecedented growth.

"Enrolment has increased from 58,866 students in September 2022 to 61,584 students in September 2023, an increase of 4.6 per cent, and we continue to welcome new students.

"As the largest publicly funded Catholic school district in Alberta, we are grateful for additional government funding to support the diverse needs of our growing student population," said CCSD spokesperson Shannon Cook.

"Our trustees will continue to advocate for sustainable and equitable investment and support in our priority areas of infrastructure, funding and mental health/wellness. Learn more in our Advocating for Catholic Education booklet."

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